The hasty replacement of the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a unit in the Nigeria Police Force, with the Special Weapons and Tactical Team, only smuggled in a repackaged old wine in a new bottle. This reality has been irritatingly exposed with the unending police brutality.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, in October 2020, hurriedly cobbled together a unit of officers and named it SWAT to sustain police brutality, which initially led to the #EndSARS youth protests that forced the IG to take the cosmetic action. Many Nigerians had questioned the rushed action if indeed the police leadership was sincerely concerned about reforming the police. The disbanded SARS officers had harassed youths and killed many at will over nonsensical excuses. The police officers branded them (the youth) Internet fraudsters and profiled many for their dressing, hairstyles and wearing of tattoos.
Just days after the name-change that was devoid of new operational orientation and goals, tear-jerking activities of the newly-formed SWAT affirmed that a leopard cannot change its spots. A few days back, some suspected SWAT officers reportedly murdered a monarch in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State, Emmanuel Mba. It was alleged that the officers, attired in mufti and wielding AK-47 rifles, in a commando-like manner, invaded a meeting being attended by the monarch and demanded to see him. Media reports noted that the suspected SWAT operatives, led by an inspector, shot the monarch while he was addressing members of his community at the town hall meeting and he bled to death before he could get medical attention. Three natives from the Oruku community in the council area reportedly came with the SWAT officers and left with them after the cruelty. The masterminds of the agonising act should have been fished out by now and made to face the full wrath of the law.
Also in December, a group of police officers stripped a bus driver identified as Emenike, naked for refusing to pay a bribe. Other drivers, who were pained by the maltreatment, protested against the incident at the Ada George area of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The Drivers’ Welfare Chairman, Choba Unit, Bestman Chile, said the incident occurred when an officer demanded a bribe from the driver but the latter refused to give in to his request.
On the same Ada George Road, a police officer attached to a supermarket there opened fire on three persons who were later admitted to a hospital. The officer reportedly shot the trio while expressing anger at the attitude of some commercial tricycle drivers operating in the area.
On November 24, 2020, a trigger-happy officer shot three women at the Edepie-Etegwe roundabout market in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. The officer was among a patrol team who were stuck in a gridlock on the day of the incident and opened fire to clear the road for their vehicle around the market area on the Mbiama-Yenagoa Road. The brutality of the police in Nigeria was further advertised when an officer in Rivers State shot dead a tricycle rider identified by his nickname, School Boy, over a N100 bribe, which the latter said was too early to offer, being 6am on that day. The incident drew the ire of youths in Rukpokwu community in the Obio/Akpor LGA, who protested the killing. In the same LGA last December, a police officer attached to the Elelenwo Police Division shot dead a 38-year-old man, Abiodun Jimoh.
The late Abiodun’s brother, Ismail Jimoh, who was with him while they were returning from a party said the killer-officer was drunk. He said a senior officer told the killer officer to release them but he refused. He noted that on the way to the station, he begged him to obey his colleagues, but he resorted to shooting. Jimoh stated that the officer used his rifle to hit him in the face and the next moment, he heard a gunshot and his brother fell down. The bullet, reports indicated, also hit another officer as other officers at the scene took the gun away from him, but it was too late to save Abiodun’s life.
These incidents, which negate the tenets of modern policing globally, are some of the absurdities the poorly-trained, outdated and flat-footed Nigeria Police officers parade on a daily basis across the country. Shamelessly, as they major in minor issues, the citizens groan under the yoke of violent crimes.
The Buhari regime should critically think about reforming the police. SWAT officers are essential for high-risk and dangerous situations, not for routine policing. The acronym SWAT is thought to have been used first by the Los Angeles Police Department after some police officers neutralised a student, Charles Whitman, using a high-powered rifle to randomly kill over a dozen people and wounded over 30 more from the University of Texas Clock Tower Building in Austin. Shortly after the incident, the LAPD formed their SWAT.
Security will not improve with a militarised police. What is urgently needed is how to implement civilised policing by decentralising the command structure. There is an urgent need to decentralise the police, amid the glaring inadequacies in their operations, notwithstanding selfish opposition against it. The reform of the current structure is long overdue. It should embrace a bottom-up approach to salvage what remains of the sinking force.